When the Nigerian-born fashion designer Duro Olowu found himself with time to spare between meetings one winter evening in London two years ago, he decided to take a walk down the Pimlico Road. Nestled between the residential districts of Chelsea and Belgravia, the charmingly old-fashioned street, lined with Victorian-era galleries and storefronts, is home to esteemed English interior design firms such as Colefax & Fowler, Rose Uniacke and Robert Kime. Along the way, Olowu, who splits his time between London and New York, was stopped in his tracks by an opulent window display at Soane Britain, the 23-year-old furniture, lighting and fabric maker that is particularly renowned for reviving disappearing artisanal techniques such as rattan.
“I was totally taken aback,” he says of the lavish living room scene, which featured matching linen curtains, wallpaper and the brand’s popular ’40s-style armless Tuileries sofa, all patterned with the lattice-like botanical swirls of Lotus Palmette, a Soane print inspired by a 16th-century Safavid silk velvet panel. “It spoke to me in the same way that a museum or a gallery display would. At the same time, everything just looked so warm and comfortable.” When Olowu shared a picture of the window on Instagram that night, his post caught the attention of Lulu Lytle, Soane’s co-founder and creative director. Lytle had been an admirer of Olowu’s own vividly colorful patterns since buying a suit from his first boutique in Notting Hill, right around the same time she helped to establish Soane in 1997. She wrote an impassioned message to Olowu in reply, and so began a creative relationship that will culminate, on March 2, with the debut of four printed and woven interior fabrics that unite Soane’s peerless craftsmanship with Olowu’s wide-ranging influences.
“We just talked and talked,” says Lytle of the pair’s meetings at both her home in Bayswater and Olowu’s store, a former gallery space in London’s St. James’s neighborhood with walls and furnishings covered in a colorful array of printed textiles, some designed by him and others — including the curtains from his sister’s childhood bedroom — collected on his frequent trips to Africa. Olowu’s clothes are similarly vibrant; his line, which he founded in 2004, consists of dresses and tailoring made from materials including vintage couture fabrics, French furniture upholstery and textiles of his own design. “We share very similar inspirations,” Lytle says of Olowu, “such as a love of Egypt, right down to a fascination with scarab beetles.”
Accordingly, the collaboration was founded on a shared obsession with antique textiles. Lytle, who as a teenager once blew her savings on a large piece of appliquéd ’20s-era Egyptian cloth she’d found at an antiques store, established Soane’s fabric division in 2011 and often finds inspiration in her extensive personal archive, which includes textiles ranging from 18th-century British shawls to Middle Eastern prayer mats, Moroccan weavings to Syrian silks. Olowu is similarly smitten. “I’ve always loved textiles,” he says. “If I ever have spare cloth from my collections, I’ll use it to cover a chair or a cushion — people go crazy over it. I’ve made pieces on commission for homes in Basel, New York and London.”
Drawing on motifs from Persian, Nigerian and Senegalese textiles, Olowu created a series of rough gouache sketches, layering them up, pattern on pattern. Lytle had given him carte blanche, and so the real challenge was whittling things down to just four designs. Eventually, they landed on Timbuktu and Koro, a pair of patterns whose geometric shapes were inspired by the jutting silhouettes of Malian mosques, as well as two finely engraved rotary prints: Regency Swirl, which evokes the curlicues of wrought-iron fencing, and Stencil Leaf, whose densely packed fronds pay homage to the sprawling topiary at the Arts and Crafts-style garden of Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, England, close to where Lytle grew up.
“They’re strong but subtle,” says Lytle of the prints, which will be available at Soane Britain stores in 11 colors and can be custom made in even more hues. “The great litmus test for textiles is to think of how many interiors you could incorporate them into.” It’s an exercise that underlines the pair’s different creative domains: While Olowu pictures the Stencil Leaf print on a bathrobe, Lytle imagines it enveloping an entire room, from floor to ceiling. “It’s more a question,” she says, “of where I won’t use them.”